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Securing public Wi-Fi

May 15, 2017 · 3 min read

Securing public Wi-Fi

In 2018, it’s a given that a large portion of our digital activities is online, whether we’re browsing the web on our home networks, checking our email on our phone’s data network, or (even better) updating our status on the free wi-fi at our favorite coffee shop, café, or restaurant.

Public wi-fi is an especially convenient choice for being always on, all the time, and is a great alternative to using up our phone data. We can all agree that it’s great, but are you sure that public, free wi-fi you’re connected to is safe?

Hackers and other malicious organizations are always on the lookout for gaps in security they can exploit. Public wi-fi for them is a goldmine if you’re not using the right protective measures to keep your data safe. They can steal your social network passwords, get into your bank or other sensitive accounts, or even steal your personal files and photos.

There are generally three ways that public wi-fi can be exploited: 

First, there are the “man-in-the-middle attacks” where hackers will create their own public network for you to access (usually with a network name similar to some café or restaurant nearby). This allows them to get all of your communication while online, as they stand in between your computer and the computer you’re connecting with through them, regardless if you’re using an HTTPS or encrypted website.

Second, hackers might be able to slip in malware if you’re not careful, software which allows them access to everything on your device, including your files and photos. They can even turn on your cameras or microphone to eavesdrop at will.

Lastly, hackers can also use wi-fi sniffing, which allows them to monitor network traffic. Here they can access the public wi-fi, and with simple software (which is not even illegal) record large amounts of data traveling across the network to be parsed later for more specific details.

All of these tricks are unfortunately easy for even an unseasoned hacker, so it’s extremely important to protect yourself. Here’s how you can keep yourself safe while still enjoying public wi-fi.

  1. Don’t log into sensitive accounts: If you’re on public wi-fi, perhaps the safest advice (besides not using public wi-fi at all) is to simply avoid going into your bank accounts and other sensitive accounts that would be most appealing for hackers. This may also include your email and social networking sites, as people tend to share sensitive information over these channels.
  2. Turn off file sharing and check your firewall: Just to be safe, it’s always best to turn off file sharing on your computer while you’re on a public network. If you have this turned on at home, it will easily allow you to share files across your devices. However, that means it’s also easy to have this shared—without your knowing—in public wi-fi, so remember to turn it off before you connect. While you’re in there turning off sharing, go ahead and check that your firewall is turned on. An easy step, but a crucial one.
  3. Use a VPN: Besides not enjoying the option of catching up on your online social life, or reading a quick email, the best method to keep yourself safe while online is always to use VPN encryption. Virtual Private Networks, like NordVPN, allow your computer to create an encrypted connection with a computer in a remote location and to have all your communications routed through that separate, secure private network. Just be careful, though, of free VPNs, as they may often be in the business of selling your data for profit. NordVPN’s flexible services offer an easy and convenient way to keep yourself safe online—and, it’s also one of the most secure as it encrypts your data not once, but twice, and doesn’t record any data or communication logs.

Remember to always be safe on public wi-fi. Hackers are hard workers too, so it’s best to remain vigilant.

Christina Craig
Christina Craig successVerified author

Christina is a community manager and the heart, the voice and the soul of NordVPN. She is always up for a conversation with our community of users and blog readers.

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